J.J. Abrams: 'Rise of Skywalker' was saved by Rian Johnson's bold vision

'The Last Jedi' inspired Abrams to end the trilogy on a high note.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It’s hard to take issue with the actual content of The Force Awakens if you’re a Star Wars fan. It’s not that it couldn’t be better (it could) but it’s wholly inoffensive on the level of story and filmmaking — largely because of it heavily draws from a film you already know and love as a Star Wars fan: A New Hope. Even if you love Force Awakens, it’s hard to not admit it’s essentially a light remix of the original Star Wars story.

The motivation is understandable. The first new Star Wars movie since 2005 had to stick the landing. Playing it safe is pretty much a guaranteed way to do that. Abrams prioritized familiar story elements to create a sturdy base for the franchise to build upon in the future. In that sense, the film was a huge success, even if you can’t help but wish it took a few more risks. The prospect that the same ethic would be apply to the trilogy’s finale has also been a big concern among fans. The Force Awakens was a time to play it safe. Rise of Skywalker is not.

The Last Jedi does anything but play it safe, with wild visual choices and character arcs that move in directions nobody could have expected. It’s an absolute Hail Mary of a film, one that looks to have inspired Abrams to not simply draw from Return of the Jedi for his conclusion to the trilogy.

In a recent interview with Total Film Abrams discussed the effect of Rian Johnson’s film on his approach to Rise of Skywalker. “In Episode VII, I was adhering to a kind of approach that felt right for Star Wars in my head.” the director acknowledges, “We continue that in Episode 9, but I also found myself doing things that I’m not sure I would have been as daring to do on Episode 7.”

He goes on to directly attribute his willingness to take more risks to Johnson. “Rian helped remind me that that’s why we’re on these movies – not to just do something that you’ve seen before,” he says, “I won’t say that I felt constrained or limited on 7, but I found myself wanting to do something that felt more consistent with the original trilogy than not. And on 9, I found myself feeling like I’m just gonna go for it a bit more.”

Controversial as The Last Jedi may be, it bodes far better for the new trilogy of films that Abrams felt free to try new things with Rise of Skywalker. The worst ending for this franchise (outside of the truly ridiculous) would be a hollow rehash of a familiar story. Had Johnson not shown Abrams that there’s room for experimentation in a galaxy far, far away, this story would likely end on a far different note. We’ll have to wait for Rise of Skywalker to hit theaters to tell for sure if it paid off but for now it seems like The Last Jedi may have saved the future of Star Wars.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes to theaters December 20.

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